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Welcome to the book blog, featuring reviews for teens from InfoSoup librarians and users!

Reviews by Elizabeth: (Seymour) Muehl Public Library

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Title: Hold Still
Author: Nina LaCour

This debut book for this author is AMAZING. Caitlin loses her best friend Ingrid. (they are in high school) Caitlin is grieving very hard and we journey with her as she comes to terms with her grief. Her parents take her on a trip in the summer to help her start to heal. When they get home her father leaves a pile of plywood in the backyard for her to build something which will give her a challenge and renewed purpose. Caitlin finds Ingrid's journal under her own bed and as she reads it, little by little, she realizes that she missed out on a lot of what her friend was thinking and feeling. Caitlin feels guilty but eventually gets to the point where she does some very positive things with the journal to help others on their grief journeys, too. For sure, the author does justice to the fact that everyone experiences grief in a different way. I love how art is shaped therapeutically in this book. *The scene where Caitlin goes to see "Rome and Juliet" is so well written. *Also, when Caitlin's mother sees her purchasing a rope in a hardware store. (These blew me away, among others!)

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Author: Kenneth Oppel

This was a very well written and thought provoking book. Ben's parents are both researchers and they bring in an addition to the family. It is a baby gorilla that they call "Zan". Over time, Ben becomes very close to Zan and he considers him a brother. Zan is being observed to see if he can learn language and he is treated like a human such as having him wear clothing. The research team is teaching Zan ASL (American Sign Language). On the surface, it appears like the treatment of the gorilla is "fair". However, as the story progresses the reader is confronted with the ethical implications of what is going on. This was fascinating because these types of experiments were going on in the '70s and I don't think the "common person" really thought about what was happening. Zan, indeed, ends up becoming much more than an "animal". Simultaneously, Ben is coming into his adolescence and he is trying to get attention from a girl at school by being "methodical". Again, this seems tame on the surface but when you realize how calculating he is being you begin to question his strategy. This book is hopeful and sad about how we try to control others. I highly recommend this book.

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Author: Nina LaCour

Colby has been best friends with Bev ever since they were young children. (They are now high school graduates.) Bev is in a band with two other young women, Meg and Alexa. The band has some end of the summer gigs before college begins. Colby is the driver for the band on this small tour. Through his eyes we discover his conflicts over who he is; how he behaves; how he misunderstands relationships around him. (I give the author a lot of credit for being able to write as a teen male protagonist.) The tour, and all of the events that the four experience during it (running Sunday to Saturday)both large and small, show how one intense week can change the course of lives. Colby finally gets both closer to Bev and, in my opinion, healthily dis-attached so that he can shape his own future. The teens witnessing of the adults in their lives and how they have coped with "life questions" gave a layer of richness to the story. This book also highlighted that no matter what stage you are in your life, there are struggles. However, art (in all its forms) is a powerful elixir.

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Author: Alex Sanchez

It is tough when you are brand new to a high school and you have moved from Wisconsin to California. It is tougher when it seems like everyone is dating and pairing off. And it is even tougher when derogatory language about homosexuality is used around you. Frederick is experiencing all of this and more as he grapples with whether he may be gay or not. His first new friend in the school is Xio who desperately wants to be Frederick's girlfriend. Will it work out? How will both Frederick and Xio mature from their friendship? This book is a well written slice of the high school pie.

Tremendous

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Title: Bluefish
Author: Pat Schmatz

Bluefish is the fourth book by Wisconsin author Pat Schmatz (rhymes with jots, not cats) who was born in Amherst, WI.
This book is an introduction to two main characters. Travis is new at the middle school. Velveeta, confident and individualistic, attends the same middle school. Inherently, both of them are lonely. Travis is a lover of the outdoors whereas Velveeta has a penchant for colorful scarves.
Travis is suffering from the loss of his dog and Velveeta is sad about the death of a good friend. This is one of many parallels they share. However, Travis has a deep-seated secret that is thwarting his ability to succeed.
A special teacher and a special librarian help Travis and Velveeta out. Other adults are described, flaws and all, which make for a realistic portrait of life. The dialogue in this book resonates, too.
The symbol of bluefish begins as derogatory and evolves into a triumphant emblem of empowerment!
This enjoyable and uplifting read leaves the reader grateful for friendship and hopeful. During the course of the novel, a gamut of feelings is tapped which is a satisfying growth experience. An appreciation for literacy is also achieved with this story.
Praise goes to Pat for her sensitive writing style. Her ability to express the middle school mindset, in particular, and humanity, in general, is to be lauded.

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Author: Nnedi Okorafor

This was a terrific story of intrigue. Sunny is a young albino woman living in Nigeria. She discovers that she has special powers and becomes friends with Chichi, Orlu and Sasha. As a team they are being trained by a local wizard and other mentors of a group that is fighting for good. An evil force that they are needed to dismantle is the Black Hat who is a serial killer of young children. Each of the young people are learning about their powers and growing in their experience of their abilities. The juju (powers) that they are finding out about are very amazing. This has great elements of fantasy in it and is well set up for another book! It is enjoyable to learn about another culture and it is also good to note that teens are similar wherever they are. Also, the librarian loves that a library serves as "headquarters".

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Author: Sarah Dessen

Ooh, another Sarah Dessen book, I liked this! Remy is the protagonist and she will be leaving for college in the fall so she decides to undertake a summer romance with Dexter. Things stupidly fall apart for them so toward the end of the book when they get realigned it is terrific. Remy is carefully watching relationships around her. Her mother is a romance writer who has been married several times and is currently married to a bozo. Her brother has a girlfriend who has "changed" him but also can be controlling. And her friends are in assorted stages of dysfunction! It is no wonder Remy is grappling with how this all works. The title refers to a song that her father wrote for her when she was born and that song became a "one-hit wonder". Then her father died so this is the only connection she has to him. Dexter is in a band and is unknowing about the story behind the song. His band does a rendition of it...you will have to read the book to see how "This Lullaby" all comes together!

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Author: Libba Bray

Thanks to Jenna for recommending this book to me. This novel is about when a plane of competing beauty queens crashes and the surviving beauty queens must learn how to cope. This book is very entertaining because of how much it pokes fun at our culture and at marketing. It's also disquieting. The story is one of intrigue because there is much more happening on the island than just the girls hoping to be rescued. There is actually a political plot and everything. (I listened to the audio, read by the author, who was extremely talented in doing a vast array of voices.) The "beauty" of Beauty Queens is the self-actualization and empowerment of all of the girls. Also, the author tackles some very tough issues such as emerging sexuality and how it feels to be transgendered; race and what part that plays or doesn't play in our definition of beauty; how often the parents of beauty queens are fulfilling their own dreams vicariously (just to name a few!). However, the author is not heavy handed with "a message". I appreciated the realism of the book and how the reader can take away what s/he wants. If you listen to the audio there is a terrific afterword. Libba admits that she loved watching pageants growing up and that experience helped her with this book. She also talks about other experiences she has had and how she came to be a writer. Well worth the listen!